When you contemplate £25,000 loudspeaker cables, several things pass through your mind. This is an awful lot of money for what is, in effect, two pieces of wire. This invites the question whether the concept of value can even exist at such a price point; some will doubtless assert that it can’t, so even raising the possibility proves how out of touch the writer is. Obviously.
Well, it can’t. Can it?
Context is important, of course, so for the purposes of this review, I assembled a system appropriate to the price of the cables. The front-end was a dCS Paganini 3-box CD/SACD player; amplification courtesy of the new David Berning ZOTL Pre One and ZH230 stereo power amp; loudspeakers were the Focal Scala Utopias. Mains and supports by MusicWorks, interconnects also by MIT, and the MIT Magnum MA loudspeaker cables (around £8,000 a pair) for comparison purposes. This is a system where any meaningful upgrade would likely cost upwards of £25,000 in any event, so part of the exercise was to see what might happen if you were to change the speaker cables, rather than any of the boxes.
As a hi-fi system improves, one notices certain things. Firstly, it might be fairly gross changes to things like clarity, openness, soundstaging and imaging. Then we might expect subtler, but no less important, improvements in dynamics, timing, timbre and tunefulness. Assuming we can assemble a system which achieves all these things, to a decent standard of performance, we’ve probably put together something which gets most things fairly right, most of the time. Going beyond this, I’d want to hear my music played on better instruments, by more skilful and talented musicians, preferably who are at their very best. These improvements are probably the most subtle of all but at the rewards, if your system can deliver, are immeasurably important.
‘One Night in Paris’ is probably the lovely Diana Krall at her absolute best. Pick a track, any track, ‘Deed I do’ will indeed do, very nicely. Through the system above it is truly delightful: superb musicianship, exquisite timing with real pace and swing, wonderful atmosphere and mood--oh, to have been there on the night. But here’s the thing, substituting the Magnum MA cables with the Oracle MA-X, the previous version is comprehensively outclassed. Suddenly, when Diana Krall sings the line “do I love you - ’deed I do”, nobody is left in any doubt that ‘deed she does. Not only that, but we’ve moved from any old seat somewhere at the back, to the best seat in the house. It’s not particularly a spatial thing, this is all about the connection to the music, all the goodness seems to be focussed onto the seat you’re in.
Another live album, this time Sting: ‘All this time’ and the track Brand New Day. It’s not even my favourite Sting track, but the version on this album has got something. It’s the same sort of ‘something’ the Diana Krall album has--great musicians, great music and a chemistry which just comes together on the night (which is all the more astonishing when you realise it was recorded on the evening of September 11, 2001). With the Oracle MA-X cables in place, the track made me want to get up and dance--not something I’d recommend witnessing--which is a rare phenomenon indeed (I have no illusions about my abilities, so the impulse rarely occurs). Reinstalling the ‘regular’ Magnum MA cables, but upgrading the transport to the dCS Scarlatti was very instructive. It was immediately obvious that the Scarlatti is a significant step-up from the Paganini transport: detailed and involving, it has a degree of self-assurance not matched by the Paganini transport; a grainless, seamless, flawless presentation where everything is in proportion and nothing is overlooked. But, here’s an odd thing: with the lesser transport but the better cables, the music was more visceral and communicative - the urge to get up and dance was there in a way which it simply wasn’t via the better transport with the lesser cables. Scarlatti + Magnum showed just how well Sting chooses his musicians, Paganini + Oracle showed how well they were playing the music.
As a habitual user of Nordost cables in my regular system and as, in some ways, MIT is the antithesis of the Nordost way of doing things, it would be fair to say that I haven’t always found the MIT ‘house sound’ to my personal taste. That said, whatever is in those boxes can bring about some remarkable benefits in the realms of timing and dynamics, compared to more conventional cables at similar prices and I know people who are happy to forego other attributes, such as sweetness or grainlessness, for a taste of what MIT brings to the party. Some criticise MIT’s bass as over-exposed or dominant, others point to a lack of sophistication in the higher frequencies. MIT’s fans reply that these are hi-fi differences, not musical ones; that a great pianist, playing an indifferent piano, will produce a more captivating performance than an indifferent pianist on even the best piano.